Archive for Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows
August is the classic time to visit southeast Arizona. The monsoons have cooled the air and greened the desert, and all the late summer breeders are singing, the “Mexican” specialties are fledging young, and northern migrants are passing through in large numbers. As if that weren’t enough, August is high season for vagrants from the Pacific and from Middle America. Who knows what this year will turn up?
There are plenty of opportunities to help me explore my favorite landscapes on earth. Why not come along?
Thursday, August 4, 6:00 am
Fort Huachuca Birds and History, with Tom Wood
Friday, August 5, 3:00 pm
Saturday, August 6, 6:00 am
Sunday, August 7, 6:00 pm
Monday, August 8, 6:30 am
Thursday, August 11, 10:30 am
Thursday, August 11, 5:00 pm
Friday, August 12, 5:00 am
California Gulch, with Jake Mohlmann
Saturday, August 13, 10:30 am
Monday, August 15, 6:30 pm
Tuesday, August 16, 5:00 am
Wednesday, August 17, 5:00 am
Thursday, August 18, 5:00 am
Friday, August 19, 5:00 am
Saturday, August 20, 5:00 am
Eighty-five years ago today, on July 22, 1931, Alden H. Miller witnessed a series of events seen by few ornithologists before or since.
Collecting in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, Miller shot one of a pair of juncos attending young, Miller found that it was a male hybrid, with the back and flank patterns of the pink-sided junco but a paler, intermediate head. The female, a visually “pure” pink-sided junco, was spared.
Five hours after her mate had been collected, a new male had arrived, courting her with song and tail flitting. Miller shot this second male, a bird with pink flanks, intermediate head color, and a mixed back color.
An hour later, a third male had attached itself to the now twice-widowed female; the newcomer was quickly dispatched and found to be more or less a pink-sided junco, but with intermediate head color.
By noon, yet another male had given his life for science, victim to his interest in the bereaved female; this bird had the back of a pink-sided, the flanks of a gray-headed, and the head color of an intermediate junco. Miller wrote:
I am doubtful that these males were all unattached previous to their interest in female X…. There was no doubt of the attraction of the female for all of them, however…. No intolerance was evidenced by the female. Some of the males gathered food for the young. This indicates disregard on the part of the junco for differences in colors of sides and backs.
Any wonder juncos are so confusing?
Burns didn’t shoot it. He didn’t net it or trap it. He didn’t even pick it up from under a plate glass window.
A large black and white cat was seen along the fence of a pasture field, with something in her mouth…. It proved to be an [adult Henslow’s sparrow] in excellent plumage, with the exception of the primaries and secondaries, which were scarcely three-fourths grown. This, together with its extreme fatness, rendered it an easy victim to tabby.
We know that Burns skinned the bird. The fate of the cat is less certain.
One hundred fifty years ago today, Adolphus L. Heermann was killed, “having evidently stumbled and fallen,” when his collecting gun fired.
John Cassin, who knew him well, said of Heermann in earlier, healthier days that no better man could be had for a collecting expedition. In 1853, Cassin dedicated a “beautiful gull” to his friend, an
acknowledgment due to his accomplishment as a naturalist, and his perseverance and success as a scientific traveller.
In Washington, D.C., Spencer Baird was equally impressed by Heermann and his work in the field. On working through a collection of sparrows from the west, Baird encountered one that Heermann had sent from Tejon Pass, California, resembling a song sparrow but
differing very appreciably from a large number of specimens from Washington and Oregon…. I have come to the conclusion that the species is worthy of specific separation, and have accordingly named it Melospiza heermanni, after its accomplished collector and discoverer.
Today we “know” that that California bird is “just” a subspecies of the song sparrow. But there’s no reason not to call it the Heermann’s song sparrow, especially today.
We — or at least I — so often forget about Robert Ridgway as a painter, giving all our attention instead to his talented brother John.
Every time I have occasion or an excuse to use the Baird History, though, I’m struck anew by how sensitive and appealing the plates are that Robert Ridgway painted for the book (some of them under vigorous protest, as Dan Lewis informs us).
Aren’t they lovely?